19 July 2016

Sarona: elegant German colony in the centre of Tel Aviv: guest post

The Temple Society was a Protestant sect that originated in the Luth­eran Church in southern Germany in 1858. Two of their leaders, Kristoph Hoff­mann & Georg Hardegg, encouraged their communities to live in the Holy Land since that would hasten the second coming of Christ. An earlier post showed how Dr Conrad Schick, a German archaeologist-architect-city engineer who had been part of the German community in Jerus­al­em, wanted to build a railway linking the Mediterranean coast with Jerusalem. This was a co­op­erative project between Catholic French engineers, German Protestants, Jewish Jerusalemites and Muslim Ottomans.

What I didn't mention was that the Templers had also purchased land in Mount Carmel and had established a colony there in 1868. These Templer colonists built an attractive tree-lined main street, 30 meters wide. The houses, des­igned by architect Jacob Schumacher, were built of stone, with red-shingled roofs, instead of the typical Israeli flat roof design. Hard work, the harsh climate and epidemics claimed the lives of many before the colony became self-sustaining. So Hard­egg stayed in Haifa, while Hoffmann established a colony in Sarona near Jaffa a year later in 1871.

The German Templers of Sarona focused on agricul­ture and small industry in a northern suburb of Jaffa. These first German settlers purchased 60 hectares of land from a Greek monastery, quickly followed by laying the foundations for the first houses. As in the Haifa colony, diseases like malaria caused the deaths of 20% of the 125 Sarona colonists during 1872. In an effort to soak up the marshy land, 1,300 eucalyptus trees were planted. One of the most important buildings in Sarona was the Community House, dedicated in 1873 to accommodate the local school.

By the 1880s 269 people lived in Sarona. As well as the communal hall, here were 41 homes, a cavern-based winery, workshops and barns. The colonists were not replicating Biblical simp­licity – they brought modern farming practices to the Holy Land, and focused on crops and products that could be marketed for a profit. First they organised grain crops and dairy products, then orchards and vineyards. Once the large winery was opened, Sarona’s wines were marketed in Germany. The milk, cheese, butter and meat were sold in Jaffa. So market-oriented was Sarona that when Jewish wineries began to pose strong competition, the German colonists of Sarona re-planted their vineyards with citrus.

Original stone houses in Sarona
built in the 1870s and 1880s
renovated from 2003-2013

Sarona's lily ponds and gardens

Faced with a shortage of financial resources for infrastructure dev­el­opment, the community introduced Frondienst, a compulsory work system where every male member was required to do a fixed number of hours of community work each month - building of roads, develop­ment of land, drainage and community facilities. In some important ways this type of commune predicted the kibbutzim that were soon to cover the Holy Land.

In Nov 1917 British troops occupied Sarona, turning the commun­ity house into a field hospital for milit­ary use. In July 1918, the British interned 850 Templers near Cairo. Once Israel became part of the British Mandate in 1919, International charity organisations took up their cause; in July 1920 270 internees were repatriated to Bad Mergentheim in Germany. Then the House of Lords in London permitted the remaining internees to return to Sarona in 1921, even the Templers who had been exiled to Egypt. The residents returned to a colony ruined by British soldiers and following negotiations with the British authorities, compensation was event­ually paid.

Surprisingly after the chaos of WW1 the settlement flourished under the British Mandate. Ag­ricultural areas expanded and new houses were built in a modern, internat­ional style. By 1925 Sarona was still a small settlement, although growing. It was a farming community that also had an emphasis on trades. With hundreds of thousands of Jewish migrants arriving from Eastern Europe, the settlement prospered due to a keen Jewish market, ready for Sarona’s produce and services.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, all international schools of German language financed by the German government's funds had to redraw their educational programmes and employ teachers aligned with the Nazi party. The swastika was used as a symbol in all such institutions.

But the worst tragedy only became visible once WW2 started, and Sar­ona became a Nazi stronghold. The mayor of Sarona, Gotthilf Wag­ner, was a virulent Nazi and he encouraged a number of the Templers to become active members of the Nazi Party. The British naturally decl­ared the German Templers to be enemy nationals.

Wherever active Nazi Germans lived in the Holy Land, they were interned by the British in Sarona, Wilhelma, Bethlehem of Galilee and Waldheim. Sarona itself held c1,000 persons behind a high barbed-wire fence. Wilhelma, another German Templer colony near Jaffa, took more of the remaining Sarona residents..

In July 1941 188 people from Sarona were deported to Australia and interned in Tatura Internment Camp in Central Victoria until 1947. Why did Australia accept these enemy prisoners? It would appear that the British could get no-one else to receive them, so the British Government leant on its most loyal ex-colony. Due to unsafe conditions in the Holy Land after the war, the Templers who had been interned in Tatura were offered the option of starting a new life in Australia or returning to Germany. Templers who were still in Palestine during the war, or in Germany, were also able to emigrate to Australia.

In December 1947, just as all British soldiers left the greater Tel Aviv region for home, the British handed over the Sarona camp to the mun­icipality. Thus Sarona became the first military camp under the indep­endent command of the IDF/Israeli defence forces.

When the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was estab­lish­ed in May 1948, the complex temporarily housed some of the original government ministries. [Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, but it was a city under siege until December 1949]. From then, until its reopening, Sarona housed the headquarters of the Israel Defence Forces. After a few year, the State of Israel paid hefty compensation to property owners whose assets had been nationalised.
Sarona Market, Tel Aviv

German war cemetery
Tatura Internment Camp

With the rapid growth of Tel Aviv, Sarona became prime real-estate in the very heart of a huge city. When plans for redeveloping the area were proposed in the mid-1970s, preservationists successfully campaigned against demolition because of the town’s unique heritage value. And since 2003, the Tel Aviv municipality’s restoration of Sarona progressed. Located just off one of Tel Aviv’s busiest roads, the original 37 Templer buil­dings that had been part of the original settlement have been meticulously restored.

Sarona's main boulevard, Kaplan Street, was widened and became an area of cafés, shops and art galleries. The parks are truly lovely, the paths are tree-lined, lily ponds abound – all in the heart of a city dominated by thousands of blocks of flats!! The Vis­itor Centre documents the history and restoration of Sarona, telling the story of its devout, religious settlers, the later growth of Nazism and its important history during the British Mandate. One wine bar, which sits in an underground cave, had been built as a wine press by the Templers in the 1880s.

The newly renovated complex was opened in early 2014. Yet to come are festivals, street theatre, open air films, art fairs, and a music garden that will host classical music concerts and jazz festivals. And an even bigger food market.

Thank you to NaftaliTours. Contact them for English-speaking guided tours of Sarona in Tel Aviv, the First Station in Jerusalem and other important historical sites.


Deb said...

I loved visiting Sarona, but I might repeat my comment about the Australian gene pool :)

Joseph said...

When the Templers began establishing their settlements in 1869, Palestine was nothing but a neglected Ottoman province. The country had not one decent seaport, its forests had been cut down, agriculture was primitive and there were more dilapidated townships than inhabitable ones. It was a country with no coach traffic, no hotels and no trained physicians. The first four Templer settlements emerged in Haifa, in Jaffa, in Sarona near Jaffa and in Jerusalem.

See the book The Settlements of the Württemberg Templers in Palestine 1868-1918, by Professor Alex Carmel, historian at the University of Haifa.


Hels said...


it is interesting how an organised community will move from one country to another, to settle permanently, but will strive to maintain their own values and traditions in their new homes. We have seen it many times in the past.

While Ottoman- and then British-Palestine was very different from Germany, the Templers remained fiercely patriotic, proudly retaining their German citizenship and even their Swabian dialect. The BBC says When the German Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Jerusalem in 1898, the Templers turned out in their finest attire to cheer him, and their colony of Wilhelma, near Jaffa, was named in honour of King Wilhelm II of Wuerttemberg.

In WWI many Templers went to fight for Germany, dying on the battlefields of Europe and in Palestine. A memorial to 24 of their WWI dead stands in the Templers' cemetery. Germany's defeat was disastrous for the Templers. Their German loyalties meant they were now considered enemy aliens by the British Protectorate. The British sent 850 of them - most of their population - to internment camps in Egypt and their properties seized.

And the situation became more awkward after the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. However Australia didn't become involved until a fifth of the Templer population British in Palestine joined the Nazi Party, just before and during WW2.

Hels said...


many thanks. I was also quite impressed with what the article had to say about the other Templer settlements. The settlers soon gained a reputation for their skills and their diligence. They built exemplary colonies and pretty houses surrounded by flower gardens - a piece of their homeland in the heart of Palestine.

Symbols of their fervent religious beliefs are still evident in the Jerusalem neighbourhood where the Templers began to settle in 1873. They named the district Valley of Refaim after a place in the Bible, and verses from the Scriptures were inscribed in Gothic lettering on their homes. Most of the buildings, with their distinctive red-tiled roofs and green shutters, are protected by a preservation order and lend the district a continental elegance which has helped make it one of Jerusalem's most expensive areas.

Andrew said...

I don't think of beautiful and historic streets in Tel Aviv, so I am pleased to learn that there are and much praise to those who campaigned to save them.

Hels said...


In 1871 Sarona was an oasis in the sand dunes. Tel Aviv only came into being as a modern, pre-planned city built on empty sand dunes in the 1920s and 30s. Tree lined north-south and east west streets were laid out by Sir Patrick Geddes, and looked modern and lovely. The biggest impact arrived with the Bauhaus architects, expelled from Berlin in 1933.


bazza said...

What an interesting story! It's completely new to me but absolutely fascinating. My step-brother is in England from Haifa at the moment. I'll bet he knows nothing of this. Thanks for posting.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

The Sarona Development said...


I lived in Tel Aviv for 2 years and have visited the family there every year since. And I too had never heard of Sarona. Thus the guest post.

The Sarona Development home page says it best: Sarona embodies the pinnacle of urban renovation and restoration, both in Israel and Tel Aviv. After many years of hiding behind the barbed-wire military walls, Sarona is finally showing off its charms. Few people know how close the Sarona structures were to being destroyed due to the city’s original urban plans. Fortunately, reason prevailed and their immense cultural and historic value were recognised. The Tel Aviv Municipality approved the restoration of Sarona in 2006!

In the process, each and every detail were evaluated, catalogued and handled by the best craftsmen available. Special detail was given to the architecture and environment in order to maintain the utmost historic accuracy.


Architectural Design Melbourne said...

Australian architecture has for the most part been predictable with structural patterns in the more extensive Western world, with some extraordinary adjustments to make up for unmistakable Australian climatic and social variables. Indigenous Australians delivered just semi-changeless structures from promptly accessible material.

Hels said...

Architectural Design

Thank you. I agree totally. Not just climatic needs and social variables, but easily accessible building materials as you note.

The stone building blocks and broad tree-lined main streets of Sarona suited Tel Aviv very well, but I am less certain about red-shingled roofs in a snow-free country.